Carmelitas_Descalzas_de_Nogoyá

Discalced Carmelite Nuns of Nogoya, Argentina. Pope Francis addressed women such as these in his homeland in the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei quaerere. (Wikimedia Commons)

In July, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Constitution on women’s contemplative life, called Vultum Dei quarere. Although aimed at orders of cloistered women religious, this document can also teach lay people how to enter into a more authentic relationship with Christ.

Vultum Dei quarere is Latin for “Seeking the Face of God.” The phrase comes from Psalm 27, my favorite Bible passage on prayer. I encourage you to prayerfully read and meditate upon the entire Psalm.

Vultum Dei quarere was addressed to women because they comprise the majority of contemplative orders. It is the first apostolic constitution for contemplative orders issued since Vatican II. Pope Francis wished to address problems in contemplative life that have gone unaddressed for decades, as well as encourage contemplatives in their increasingly counter-cultural vocation.

Here are some of the highlights of the document and my reflections on what we as lay people can learn from them.

A dialogue of love

“Seeking the face of God has always been a part of our human history. From the beginning, men and women have been called to a dialogue of love with the Creator. Indeed, mankind is distinguished by an irrepressible religious dimension that leads human hearts to feel the need – albeit not always consciously – to seek God, the Absolute.” (No. 1)

Meditate on that! Really, I mean it. So many of the errors in the way prayer is taught and practiced come down to a failure to recognize that prayer means seeking God’s face. Prayer is “a dialogue of love with the Creator.” The desire for God is inborn. Nothing else satisfies the human heart. We long for an eternal love.

Ask yourself:

  • Has my prayer become mere rote?
  • Do I dialogue with God in prayer, or just talk at Him?
  • Am I seeking a new consciousness or an encounter with a divine Person?
  • Do I feel drawn to a closer union with God in prayer?

City on a hill

Cloistered religious are called to become “a living exegesis of God’s word” (No. 2). In other words, they are a living, breathing interpretation of Sacred Scripture. Or, as the document goes on to say:

“The presence of communities set like cities on a hill or lamps on a stand, despite their simplicity of life, visibly represent the goal towards which the entire ecclesial community journeys. For the Church ‘advances down the paths of time with her eyes fixed on the future restoration of all things in Christ’, thus announcing in advance the glory of heaven.”

If these women are a city on a hill for us, shouldn’t we be learning more about their life, pondering what they can teach us? Long ago a friend presented me with the book My Beloved: The Story of a Carmelite Nun by Mother Catherine Thomas. This beautiful true story about life in a 20th century American cloister is now out of print. I encourage you to read it if you can find a used copy. If you have read similar books, especially any newer ones, please share them in the comments. Many movies in the last decade have also given us a peek within the cloisters. I hope and pray we’ll continue to see efforts like this.

“The monastic life, as an element of unity with the other christian confessions, takes on a specific form that is prophecy and sign, one that ‘can and ought to attract all the members of the church to an effective and prompt fulfilment of the duties of their christian vocation’.” (No. 4)

Ask yourself:

  • Am I as devoted to following God’s will in my vocation as a cloistered religious is?
  • Have I forsaken all worldly ambitions to follow God’s will alone?
  • Do I see the duties of my state in life as a means for holiness and union with God?
  • Am I quick to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, or am I sluggish?

Contemplative values

“In these past decades, we have seen rapid historical changes that call for dialogue. At the same time, the foundational values of contemplative life need to be maintained. Through these values – silence, attentive listening, the call to an interior life, stability – contemplative life can and must challenge the contemporary mindset.” (No. 8)

Ask yourself:

  • What can contemplative orders teach me about silence?
  • About attentive listening?
  • About my call to the interior life?
  • Is the Holy Spirit prompting me towards greater silence and simplicity in our noisy, distracted culture?

“Over the centuries, the Church has always looked to Mary as the summa contemplatrix.” (No. 10).

I love that phrase, summa contemplatrix! Mary is the great contemplative, the mother of all who seek the face of God. She is our model. She is our help. We turn our faces toward her and she turns them toward Christ her Son.

“Contemplatives appreciate the value of material things, yet these do not steal their heart or cloud their mind; on the contrary, they serve as a ladder to ascend to God… Contemplation thus involves having, in Christ Jesus whose face is constantly turned to the Father, a gaze transfigured by the working of the Holy Spirit, a gaze full of awe at God and His wonders.” (Nos. 10-11)

Ask yourself:

  • Do I still have a sense of wonder about the world?
  • If not, how might I get that back?
  • Do I instill this wonder in my children?
  • Do I let material things lead me beyond themselves to God, or do I mistake the means for the end?

Noonday devil

Number 11 uses a phrase hardly ever heard any more– the midday (or noonday) devil. Pope Francis reminds us that the Desert Fathers faced:

the temptation to listlessness, mere routine, lack of enthusiasm and paralysing lethargy.”

Since reading Vultum Dei quaerere, I’ve become more aware of this temptation to acedia in my daily life. How often do I finish a project and then feel restless! How often when I feel my prayer is useless or empty am I really just being tempted by the noonday devil?

Growth in holiness or just in numbers?

Parents, homeschoolers, catechists, pastors, and all who accompany others on their journey toward God can learn from No. 15, which states that “ample time must be reserved” for the formation of new candidates before they make their final vows.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I expect too much, too soon of my children, students, or new converts?
  • Am I too focused on numbers, ages, and statistics, instead of on true conversion of heart?
  • Do I give others ample time and space to grow?
  • Do I expect everyone to follow the same path down which God has led me?

Prayer, Word, and Sacrament

Perhaps my favorite section is this:

“Today many persons do not know how to pray. Many simply feel no need to pray, or limit their relationship with God to a plea for help at times of difficulty when there is no one else to turn to. For others, prayer is merely praise in moments of happiness.” (No. 16)

Can I cut these sentences out and send them to every priest I know? Please, teach us to pray!!!! Teach us this:

“Personal prayer will help keep you united to the Lord like branches on the vine, and thus your life will bear abundant fruit.”

From this point, the document begins to speak of new regulations for cloistered religious, including frequent Reconciliation, Eucharistic Adoration, and Lectio Divina.

“The entire Church, and especially communities completely devoted to contemplation, need to rediscover the centrality of the word of God, which, as my predecessor St. John Paul II stated, is the ‘first source of all spirituality’. The word of God needs to nourish your life, your prayer, your contemplation and your daily journey.” (No. 19)

Ask yourself:

  • How often do I make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
  • Do I or can I make time for Eucharistic Adoration?
  • Am I devoted to the Eucharist at Mass?
  • Does the word of God enrich my whole life, through the liturgy, study, and meditation?

You can read the whole document here. I’d love to hear your reaction in the comments!

Connie Rossini

 

 

 

Written by Connie Rossini

Hi, I’m a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

    8 Comments

  1. Carmelite in training August 4, 2016 at 8:42 am Reply

    What a wonderful reflection on Vultum Dei Quarere! I loved how you make it so applicable to us lay people. It’s all too easy to dismiss something like this as being “just for contemplatives.” If it’s for contemplatives, then it’s for all of us because we are ALL called to contemplate the Face of God. A RIGHT TO BE MERRY, by Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare, is another good book about life in the cloister. It’s still in print, thankfully, and I believe it’s published by Ignatius Press. Another one that is supposed to be good (out of print but I was blessed to find an affordable copy of) is A FEW LINES TO TELL YOU: MY LIFE IN CARMEL by Sister Marie.

    • Connie Rossini August 4, 2016 at 9:01 am Reply

      Thanks for the tips on the books. Stories about cloistered nuns are so inspiring! Especially when there about women in or close to our own time. I am working on interviewing a Discalced Carmelite nun from our diocese for the diocesan paper. It’s really a treat to write the story and find out more about her life and vocation.

  2. tom faranda August 4, 2016 at 10:30 am Reply

    Thanks for this fine posting. An excellent book on contemplatives, and still in print is “Halfway to Heaven: The Hidden Life of the Carthusians” and it can be found here –

    https://www.amazon.com/Halfway-Heaven-Carthusians-Cistercian-Studies/dp/0879077867/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1470324235&sr=8-4&keywords=halfway+to+heaven

    And the movie documentary from 2007 “Into Great Silence” again about the Carthusians is awesome. EWTN used to run it fairly regularly.

    https://www.amazon.com/Halfway-Heaven-Carthusians-Cistercian-Studies/dp/0879077867/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1470324235&sr=8-4&keywords=halfway+to+heaven

    • Connie Rossini August 4, 2016 at 1:10 pm Reply

      Thanks, Tom. I got Into Great Silence for a birthday present a few years back. When my husband and I started watching it, I was really uncomfortable with the fact there there were not any sounds on it. I mean, not only was there no talking, but the sounds of nature, footsteps, doors closing, etc.–none of it. It was so unnatural that we could hardly stand it. Then we realized someone had pushed the “mute” button! I still haven’t gone back to watch the whole movie after that negative first experience.

  3. Tom from CT August 4, 2016 at 3:27 pm Reply

    I’m currently in a bible study group at my parish and we are using Dr. Tim Gray’s study on Lectio Divina. I will be sharing some of these highlights from Vultum Dei quarere and your thoughts/reflections with our group. I have read Psalm 27 1000 times if I’ve read it once and never before has that verse (#8) stuck out and spoke to me as it does now. (It is your face Lord that I seek) After reading your post and Psalm 27 again (for the 1,001st time) I’ve been repeating it throughout the day. Thank you for this post!!! May the Lord’s peace be with you always!!!!

    • Connie Rossini August 4, 2016 at 6:43 pm Reply

      Wow, Tom! Isn’t it fantastic the way the Holy Spirit works? Things like that have happened to me time and again. Yes, I LOVE Psalm 27–the whole thing. It speaks of trust and prayer, which are my two favorite subjects.

  4. Jess August 5, 2016 at 4:28 am Reply

    Oh this is excellent Connie, thanks for sharing! I am grateful for the book recommendation by you and another reader who gave a couple below – I’m very interested to read them. I just recently heard of the book “12 degrees of silence” written by a carmelite nun. I am very interested in obtaining a copy to help me practice more interior silence. Speaking of it, I recently decided to fast from Facebook all of August – it was becoming a distraction to me and disturbing my interior silence. I feel so free without it! And I feel like I can turn my heart and mind to God more. I wish I could be more detached like others but I’m just not there yet, lol. Also, there is a movie about the Carmelites that I believe Ignatius press made too (if I’m correct). Thanks for this practical post and God bless you and your family 🙂

    • Connie Rossini August 5, 2016 at 9:10 am Reply

      Bravo for taking a break from Facebook! I wish I could take a break from social media. I get attached to it too. I’m growing to hate the “Like” button, because it caters so much to vanity, although it does have a useful purpose as well. I will look up “12 Degrees of Silence.” I don’t have time for any more books right now, but maybe some day…

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